NARRAGANSETT – James Callaghan, who previously served as town council president nearly a decade ago, will return to the Narragansett Town Hall chambers, a Monday vote decided. The council unanimously appointed the North Kingstown-based attorney and his law firm, Callaghan & Callaghan, to the position of town solicitor.
The new hire comes after previous town solicitor Mark Davis made a dramatic exit from the position, insulting council members during a public comment period at a meeting in July, and ultimately being removed from the virtual meeting. Davis had previously been on a six-month probationary period.
Callaghan comes into the new role after exiting the political arena in 2014 following an unsuccessful bid for the Senate District 35 seat, which represents parts of East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett. In that race, Callaghan, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mark Gee. The seat is now held by Senator Bridget Valverde, a Democrat.
Before the 2014 election, Dawson Hodgson, who served as Narragansett’s town solicitor from 2015 to 2017, represented District 35 in the Senate.
Callaghan was appointed the president of the Narragansett Town Council following his first-time election in 2012. He did not seek a seat on the council in 2014 due to his run for state senate.
As an attorney, Callaghan has represented many clients before the Narragansett Town Council and the town’s planning and zoning boards. Callaghan & Callaghan’s website lists the law firm’s practice areas as real estate, criminal defense, family law, personal injury, workers compensation and probate and wills.
A resident, Thomas Callahan, who bears no relation to the new solicitor, asked the council about procedure should a conflict of interest arise.
“The planning and zoning board’s actions end up in front of the council on a routine basis, you have two of them tonight,” he said. “My question is when you have that kind of representation in terms of client representation and council representation, what provisions have been made for the council for dealing with that conflict of interest?”
“That is something we discussed,” said town council president Jesse Pugh. “Any current work on any town applications will be ended. There will be no relationship with any current applications or current cases that [Callaghan & Callaghan] are representing. For any cases that we have public hearings or go through the general town process, they’ll recuse themselves from those. There’s a backup attorney that will handle those.”
North Kingstown Town Council President Greg Mancini also testified to Callaghan & Callaghan’s strength and character as a law firm. The practice currently serves as solicitors for that town as well.
“The reason I am here is because I’m an attorney and I wanted to come here and support this appointment of my own volition,” he said. “When I was first elected three years ago, I didn’t know Callaghan & Callaghan. But over a very short period of time, they have come to gain my trust and I believe the citizens of North Kingstown’s trust, so much so that I am here tonight. I strongly recommend them…I can sincerely ensure the residents of the Town of Narragansett that this is an excellent hire and because of that I’m here to support this hire.”
Mancini also spoke to the potential conflicts of interest that could arise with a locally practicing firm that also serves as a town’s legal counsel.
“As an attorney, I will tell you, they have a higher authority than the Town of North Kingstown and the Town of Narragansett if there’s a conflict, and that is their license through the supreme court’s rules and professional conduct,” he said. “I’m sure they will adhere to that as all of us do when there are these types of conflicts. Potential conflicts have not been an issue for us in North Kingstown.”
The position pays an annual salary of $100,000, in addition to work completed for litigation and special projects.
Though councilors Ewa Dzwierzynski and Patrick Murray have shown hesitancy in replacing Davis, the vote to appoint Callaghan was unanimous.
After a swearing-in ceremony, the new solicitor took his seat alongside town staff and fulfilled the typical duties of the position at council meetings, which included administering legal oaths to those wishing to testify and dispatching legal advice.
Callaghan is Narragansett’s fourth solicitor since 2015.